In a U-turn, the US has said the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS Nimitz (CVN-68), along with its strike group will remain deployed in the Middle East in the wake of threats from Iran. The latest order comes within 96 hours of the Pentagon calling the carrier back home.
Earlier, US Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller had thanked the 5,000 sailors of the USS Nimitz and the Marines of its strike group for their work and told them to return home.
The carrier, its embarked air wing, and its escorts have remained deployed in the US Central Command since June of last year.
During the deployment, the carrier provided operational and close air support off the coast of Somalia as part of Joint Task Force-Quartz and Operation Octave Quartz as US troops were relocated from Somalia to other areas of Africa.
Apart from that, the aircraft operating from the USS Nimitz also provided persistent air cover during troop drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as supporting other areas of the Middle East.
The sailors and Marines who were assigned to the strike group have been away from their families since April due to the added precautions of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, much to their relief, they were told to finally return home by the Pentagon.
“The sacrifices and services of the Sailors, Marines, and their families are greatly appreciated by the entire Department of Defense and were in the finest traditions of the U.S. naval service. We are glad that we can conclude 2020 by announcing these warriors are headed home,” the Pentagon had said in a statement a few days ago.
However, the same order has been revoked now, asking the Nimitz to remain stationed in the area of the US Central Command in the wake of threats from Iran. Iran had accused the US of killing its top commander Qasem Soleimani a year ago and the two sides are issuing threats to one another.
“Due to the recent threats issued by Iranian leaders against President Trump and other U.S. government officials, I have ordered the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) to halt its routine redeployment,” Miller said on Sunday (January 3, 2021).
“USS Nimitz will now remain on station in the U.S. Central Command area of operations. No one should doubt the resolve of the United States of America,” he added.
Reports suggest Tehran is preparing to avenge the killing of Soleimani, who was the IRGC Quds Force Commander and an influential person in the corridors of power.
Soleimani, who was considered the second most powerful person in Iran after Ayatollah Khamenei, was allegedly killed in a US drone strike on January 03, 2020, in Iraq.
According to Iranian news reports, Commander of Iran’s Army, Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi, last week, said that Iran was poised with a “hand holding a sword and a sledgehammer” to strike against Soleimani’s killers.
According to sources, the earlier decision by Miller to withdraw the Nimitz carrier out of the region was aimed at de-escalating tensions with Tehran.
However, amid rising fears that Iran or its proxies may choose to retaliate on the anniversary of Soleimani’s killing, the Pentagon has been on high alert.
Former Israeli national security council chief and Major General (retired) Giora Eiland, is of the opinion that Iran will take a decision on its next move after President Joe Biden takes over.
“(Iran has) no interest today in resuming a large-scale confrontation with anyone, especially not with the US in the next two weeks before the transition of the presidency.”
“So I don’t think anything dramatic will happen in the next few days or hours just because it is the anniversary of the death. But Iran feels that at some point, it will have to retaliate, if not against the US, then against Israel or Israeli interests,” Eiland maintained. “They would probably prefer to do it after Biden takes over. Trump is unpredictable.”
The USS Nimitz
The USS Nimitz, one of the largest warships in the world, and has a capacity of 6,000 personnel (crew and aircrew). The super-carrier has a flight deck area of whopping 4.5 acres and the runway length of the vessel is 300 feet.
Named after Chester W. Nimitz, a commander of the US’ Pacific Navy aircraft fleet, it was the first vessel to be launched under the Nimitz class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
Built by Newport News Shipbuilding Company (now Northrop Grumman Ship Systems), the Nimitz-class warships are proficient at cruising at a speed of more than 30kt.
The flight deck of the warship is 333m x 77m and has four lifts, four steam-driven catapults, and four arrester wires. It is capable of launching one aircraft every 20 seconds.
Moreover, with such a spacious flight deck, the Nimitz-class carriers can accommodate an air wing with around 90 aircraft, including F/A-18E, F/A-18F Super Hornets, F/A-18A, and F/A-18C Hornets.